Health Minister Terrance Deyalsingh at yesterday’s COVID 19 press briefing at the Diplomatic Centre in St Ann’s, yesterday.

Panic buying of a drug, which has been rumoured to help in the treatment of COVID-19, has left Lupus, Malaria and Rheumatoid Arthritis patients in a perilous situation.

Over the weekend, Lupus advocate group the Lupus Voice expressed concerns that hydroxychloroquine drug was scarce at pharmacies across the country.

The shortage, which has been an international trend amid reports that the drug can aid in treating COVID-19, was addressed by Minister of Health Terrence Deyalsingh during the Prime Minister’s press conference at the Diplomatic Centre yesterday.

“The issue of the panic buying of the drug chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine. Let me say upfront, that there is absolutely no scientific evidence that chloroquine or hydroxychloroquine either by itself or in combination with azithromycin can be used safely and effectively in the treatment of COVID, “ he said, “however what has happened in Trinidad is that because of panic buying and the exhaustion of stocks in the private sector, patients suffering from malaria, rheumatoid arthritis and Lupus cannot now access that drug which is life-saving for them.”

“Not only that the price at the retail was taken from $3.20 per tablet to $10 per tablets, “ said Deyalsingh who chastised pharmacies for price gouging.

“I want to ask pharmacy owners and pharmacy operators that price gouging in a time like this is not how we behave. The patients who have been sustaining you, patronizing your retail outlets over the years and decades, buying this drug at $3.20 to treat malaria, rheumatoid arthritis and Lupus. They are now coming to you as faithful customers and they are now faced with two things: one, price gouging from $3.20 to $10 and now no stock.”

“We have now placed those three categories of patients at risk. At risk!” he said, while also admonishing those who bought the drug with no idea how to use it.

“And having chloroquine stored in your house for which you have no use, for which you don’t know how to use it and if you attempt to use it, creates a danger to you. But it is now hoarded in your homes and the three categories of patients, I want to say it again malaria, rheumatoid arthritis and Lupus cannot access this drug, “ the Minister said.

United States President Donald Trump has been among those who have spoken about the use of the drugs as a potential treatment for the coronavirus. President of the Pharmacy board Andrew Rahaman said this partly contributed to the rush for chloroquine.

“That’s when it really started to catapult up. If somebody like the United States President saying it you could kind of expect it, “ said Rahaman, “I still want to implore that public that the item is really for three other ailments and it has not been proven to be for (COVID).”

Rahaman said he would also be speaking to his members but felt the situation also has another dimension that requires attention.

“I’m trying deal with it on both sides, to deal with it on the demand reduction side and also to deal with it with my members asking them to reserve it for the patients, for the (ailments) it’s proven for, “said Rahaman who said while he could not totally say price gouging was not being done by pharmacists, they often are victim to pricing by wholesalers.

The wholesalers have no regulation in relation to markups, “ he said, “Half of the problem that we going through really emanating from the wholesalers carrying up their prices.”